If you’d have asked me at the beginning of the year whether I’d be racing in a 24-hour mini-bike endurance race in September, I’d have called you crazy. But one of the fantastic things about working in the motorcycle industry is you never know what wild rabbit hole you’ll fall down next. Thanks to a chance encounter and the reach of social media, I was invited to participate in the 6th Annual M1GP Super Endurance Motorcycle Charity Race at the Willow Springs Raceway Kart Track and now I’m hooked; to racing, to racing mini bikes, to absurd endurance style races, to subsisting on gummy bears and Red Bull to be ready for a 4 a.m. stint on track, all of it.
But it was a winding road getting there. Back in April I attended Rich Oliver’s Mystery School and met a handful of awesome people, some of whom I stayed in touch with after the weekend was over. One of those new friends, Gene, connected with me on Facebook. At that point had no real idea how involved he was in the M1GP American Mini Motorcycle Road Racing Association. Turns out he’s a regular.
Despite some early set-backs, we got a team pulled together. Here’s a look at our highly professional pit area.
Soon after connecting I received a message in my inbox which made me think, briefly, that Gene was half-mad. He’d asked whether I’d be interested in joining him on his team for a 24-hour mini bike endurance race in Southern California.
I was flattered at the offer but quick to point out that despite how impressive I must have looked while nervously rounding the TT course at Oliver’s ranch, I wasn’t a good choice if winning was a concern. He assured me that I’d be just fine and that the experience would be well worth the trip. He also explained that we’d be on a Honda 125 modified for the track, which is not exactly a rip-roaring beast of a bike.
After mulling it over for a few days the irrational, fame-seeking, 1980’s-raised part of my brain started to take over and I got excited about the prospect. This was the chance for my inner Rossi to be unleashed! I’ll be able to quit my job as a journalist to go challenge the boys in GP after impressing everyone with my natural skill! They’ll call me the “Montana Maniac” and I’ll have to buy a second house to hold all my trophies and oversized, empty bottles of champagne! “You’ll never achieve your dreams if you don’t take that first step,” I told myself in my best Tony Robbins voice, so I finally responded back that I’d be glad to join the fun.
(Hello, my name is Byron. I’m a product of a generation that was given copious amounts of undue praise for merely participating. I fully believe my mother when she says I’m the greatest son ever and feel that changing the world is as simple as signing an online petition between liking cute cat pictures and reading about the 10 most healthy fruits to include in my next power smoothie. – Millennials Anonymous Transcript, May 2015.)
Of course, all that was ridiculous. What I’ve learned in the past years riding is that substantive gains in skill on a motorcycle, for me at least, are the product of focused practice. My experiences at Z2’s Novice School and in the MotoFit Green Group Training Course reinforced the value of such an incremental approach and, thankfully, my thinking was much more grounded and methodical as race day approached.
Part of the pull back to earth came from the fact that after signing on and getting all jazzed about the event, a number of riders that had originally signed on were forced to pull out of the race. We went from a full team to just a couple of guys without a bike and it looked likely that we’d not be participating.
Thankfully the M1GP organization is like a family and one of the main organizers of the event, Young Lee, was able to connect me and Gene with another team that had suffered a similar setback.
Our mighty steed, ready for battle…
Patty’s Ninjas was born, and we were exactly the rag-tag bunch of outliers from different walks of life that could pull off the win in some heroic blaze of glory. We’d beat the odds and earn the uproarious applause from the crowd by the finish. Shoulder hoisting was bound to follow, along with some seriously enthusiastic high-fives.
In other words I was stoked to be back in the game. We’d be on an XR100 instead of the 125, as originally planned, and our mechanic Kevin had mapped out a plan to get the machine ready. Here’s a breakdown of all the updates he was able to get done, in the span of a few weeks:
The front end was fitted with an XR80 wheel and an MR175 front fork that had been shortened by 2.5 inches. Tapered steering head bearings were also added. The rear wheel got new bearings and both rims were laced with Buchanan stainless steel spokes. The wheels were wrapped in fresh 16-inch Dunlop TT900 tires. The rear suspension set-up featured a BBR Heavy Rear Spring and new shock linkage bushings. Kevin added grooved EBC front brake shoes and drilled holes in the front and rear brake plates for better cooling. The front and rear sprockets came from an XR80 and were turned by a new 420 chain provided by Renthal. Kevin removed the airbox and installed a Uni clamp-on filter. The engine received a BBR 120cc big-bore kit with a new cam and new OEM intake and exhaust valves. The cylinder head was ported and rebuilt by Ted Boyko at Boyko Racing, with spent gasses expelled through a brand new FMF Powercore 4 full exhaust system. An iridium spark plug was utilized as well. Other changes included Pro-Taper handlebars, Trackside bar/brush guards, quick-adjust brake and clutch levers, a BBR throttle, Spider grips and a new graphics kit.
Whew. There was a lot of work put into the bike, and we were grateful to Kevin, especially considering that he was, technically, registered as the support crew for another team, Team Janky 3.0.
In total 11 teams were able to pull it together for the race, riding everything from Honda NSR50s, Groms, Yamaha TTR125s, CRF50s and, of course, XR100s. We would be in the Mod 100 class, competing against the Groms, TTRs, an Aprilia RS100 and others. After some more teammate shuffling, we ended up with six riders on our squad and were charged with keeping the party going from noon on Saturday all the way to noon on Sunday. It was going to be glorious.
Race day started early on Saturday, with mobile tech scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. and mandatory rider meeting at 9:30 a.m. A short window was left open for some practice runs just after 10 a.m. and this was critical for our team. The bike build had extended to basically the night before the race and neither Kevin nor anyone else had been able to give the modified XR a thorough shakedown. This would be our only opportunity to identify any issues before noon.
One of the many carb rejets.
A few circles around the parking lot didn’t reveal much of anything to be concerned with, but once practice was underway it was clear that the bike needed some work. I and another rider, Erik, were nominated to turn laps first because neither of us had ridden the track before. We were faced with a fueling problem, the bike stuttering at about mid throttle and providing hardly any drive in the upper revs. Kevin popped the spark plug out and noticed it looked a bit white, so we took the carb off and did a rejet to get the bike running richer. It was too rich on the first attempt, so another carb jet (or two) took place and we eventually found a set-up that seemed to work OK. The bike certainly wasn’t running at its full potential, but at least we could be on the start line and get rolling when the green flag flew.
Erik was first up for the team and sprinted to the bike in a Le Mans-style start under the ringing echo of a group of Taiko drummers, who were invited to give the opening laps some additional drama. Erik was one of the faster riders on our team but in light of the continuing bike problems our chances at even competing for a podium were looking grim. The teams running Groms were especially fast, packed with smooth riders on dialed-in equipment. The TTR125s and the other XR100 had us on outright speed as well.
After Erik completed the first hour, Kevin and a newly recruited support crew member, Brian, set out to try and rectify the fueling problem once again. Gene was up next and once the carb was back on he set out for his stint. Watching him inch down the straight, we knew things had not gotten better, and he quickly pulled back in for more wrenching. Each pit stop was made all the more harrowing for the fact that riders were required to cut the engine just as they pulled off track and proceed to their areas under foot power, which in practice meant that others on the team would put a hand on the rider’s back and push at full sprint until reaching the pit. The same rules applied when reentering the track, with foot power required until a specified point before you could fire the engine.
A Le Mans-style start to get things going.
We lost a lot of laps on everyone in those early hours, trying numerous different solutions in addition to the carb rejets. An eventual resolution was found that was better than any other we’d discovered, cutting the top-end sputtering at least, but power delivery was still not as competitive as we needed. Even in those early stages, the upspoken goal for the race had become more about reaching the finish line than contending for any sort of podium, much less a win.
The amazing thing though is there was no resignation, anger or even much disappointment. We had a problem to solve and were going to make the best of it. There was no quitting or backing out. Plus, being out there on the track, even getting passed by a handful of riders down nearly every straight, was a blissful experience.
We started out in the heat of the day running about an hour per rider and it really allowed you to find a rhythm and feel a flow. Certainly, there were times that the long periods would challenge the concentration and in the early going, on fresh tires, traction was a bit unreliable at times. But it was really an incredible feeling to have this string of moments, whether near misses, passes or perfect corners, buzzing in your head after 60 minutes of focused, competitive riding.
A few more issues arose in the next hours, including one particularly scary moment for our Team Captain, Patty, who experienced what felt like a stuck throttle about halfway into her stint. It turned out the idle screw had shifted and was idling far too high, a quick fix that didn’t affect us again during the race.
Sure its small, but the little XR proved to be a lot of fun on the Willow Springs Kart Track.
As night descended, the 0.625 mile track was illuminated by a number of GO Green Mobile Power stands. During the day these seemingly tiny lamps didn’t appear to have the oomph needed to light the track sufficiently, but ended up being impressively bright. There was a hiccup during one of my stints, where one of the units, powered by diesel, ran out of gas. It made for a sketchy entry at Turn 1, but thanks to the headlights of a few cars parked near the fence we were able to stay safe until the light problem was fixed.
Riding at night only intensified the sense of focus on the bike, as the only truly visible elements were the track itself and the competitors. It was like being lost in a gas-powered meditation, the Om of the engine expelling all but the most essential from the mind.
I opted to try and get a few hours rest after my run at around midnight. When I awoke I saw the XR sitting in our pit and fairly dismantled.
Apparently a valve spring had failed in the engine and it was basically toast. As mentioned before though, M1GP has really cultivated a supportive, familial type atmosphere and a competitor from the other XR100 team, Joey, immediately offered up his spare stock engine for us to borrow to finish the race. This could have been a prime moment to just throw up their hands and call it quits, but instead Kevin and Brian worked tirelessly from about 4 a.m. to get the engine swapped.
One of our riders catches some zzz’s while our mechanic frantically works to swap an engine.
It took a fair amount of time to get the bike back on track, but it was ready before sun-up and Michael, another of our riders, returned us to competition. Unfortunately, the combination of cold track and cold tires caught him out and he suffered a small crash. Luckily he was unhurt and able to complete the ride through the pit and tech inspection required by the rules to return to action.
The bike ran perfectly after that and we kept our heads down and continued to turn laps as fast as we could. There were remarkably few crashes and in the latter stages only one team faced a problem large enough to end their race early. We were able to make up the 90 or so laps after their exit to move out of 11 to finish 10th.
Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, abundance of caffeine, sugar high or a combination of all three, but finishing, for us, felt like winning. There were a lot of opportunities to throw in the towel but quitting was never an option and to make it to the end felt just short of euphoric.
I will absolutely do another race like this, and will be there as soon as is humanly possible. I can’t thank my teammates – Erik, Michael, Ryan, Patty, Gene – enough for making the experience truly wonderful. To M1GP, Young Lee and everyone that organized the event, it was such an inspiring experience to see the sportsmanship, support and camaraderie that exists in your association. M1GP is a truly great organization in which to develop the racing talent of tomorrow. Thanks also needs to be extended to Ted Boyko, Phil Douglas at Aftershocks Suspension, Sam Aoki at Korp Cycle, Simonds Machinery Co. and Rod Saito at Peakmoto.
We also wouldn’t have had a chance of finishing without the mechanical support of Kevin and Brian and special thanks to Team Janky 3.0 for understanding our need and letting us keep Kevin busy for the better part of the event! I also have to offer a special thanks to Renthal and FMF. Both companies came through big with parts that we desperately needed. Thank you for the support!
- Ride whichever way gets you 'round the track fastest.
- First elbows, now palms down...where will it end?!
- Sometimes there weren't many hands on deck, so you'd just have to push the next guy out in your full get up.
- Young Lee of M1GP.